My wife Judy makes the best chili I have ever tasted, bar none. My daughters, Megan and Abby, have asked her for the recipe several times. Unfortunately, she has never been able to be very specific with the instructions or the ingredients. You see, once she begins her ingredient list, things get a bit convoluted.
The problem lies in the fact that Judy makes chili using what I call, the ‘Hunky Technique.” The basic premise of this method is that she will start the recipe with the basic ingredients such as ground meat, onions, kidney beans, etc.; HOWEVER, she then proceeds to clean out all of those near empty bottles of compatible condiments that have been hanging out in the fridge. An assortment of nearly empty ketchup bottles, a bit of left over spaghetti sauce, and even the last couple dips of salsa that someone couldn’t quite finish end up in the chili. As a result of using these additional ingredients, the chili is always slightly different each time she makes it, BUT, it is ALWAYS very, very tasty.
Since I began writing this blog, I have kept a small composition book where I write down different ideas, memories, etc. that I intend to use for some future posting. However, just like my wife will create an occasional pot of chili to empty those nearly empty ketchup bottles and to use up odds and ends in our fridge, I feel compelled to occasionally write a post that will use up some of those literary odds and ends I have hanging around in my little notebook. Although the thoughts are not connected in any way, when mixed together, I hopefully will be able to offer you a tasty post for you to enjoy. So, here goes:
I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM – When I was teenager, the telephone was my lifeline. It was my modern day “social network” to connect to friends. Like most homes in Duquesne, we had only one phone in the house. It was located in our dining room atop my mother’s sewing machine. It was one of those heavy black desktop black phones. My dad never sprang for the long line from the wall to the phone, so my mobility was somewhat limited. I WAS able to stretch the phone around the corner so that I could sit on the sofa or a chair and talk, but that was about it.
The reason why I bring all of this up, is because I remembered a rather obscure detail from my youth in Duquesne. Back in the 60’s, we had the predecessor of today’s Facebook and Match.com all rolled into one. Before the days of digital dialing with touch-tone phones, telephones operated on a much less complicated basis. As a result, the teenagers in the area were able to find a glitch in the phone system that we used to our advantage to randomly talk to each other. We discovered that if we would dial “111” from our phones and wait a few seconds, we would begin to hear this warning signal that sounded very much like the siren that used to go off at the fire station at the top of Mellon St. The signal on the phone would pause every few seconds however. In those very few seconds when the signal paused, you would be able to talk SCREAM to anyone else who had dialed in. You could hear people randomly YELLING out names, numbers, etc. You never had any idea who was “out there,” but it was thrilling, nonetheless, that you were part of this “secret” network. I’ve often wondered if anyone else remembered this crazy party line?
CHAINS OF LOVE – There was a fad that sprang up in the early 60’s that I always scratched my head over. It seemed that every girl in grade school and high school had begun creating and nurturing a gum wrapper chain. I remember my cousin Paula religiously lengthened her chain with a steady supply of used chewing gum wrappers. Although I don’t know all the details and reasons behind the chain, I remember that Paula used to tell me that if it would be broken, that bad things would happen to her and her love life. Now, she probably was only 14 or 15 when she began her chain, so a “damaged love life” probably wouldn’t have been an issue, but, she never took a chance. I recall her carefully carrying her chain around with her from room to room, not unlike Jacob Marley and his chains when visiting Scrooge.
As dedicated as Paula was to her creation, I ran across a guy on the internet that started his on March 11, 1965. He has continually maintained and added to his wrapper chain since that 1965 date. As a point of reference, two major events happed during the same week that he began his chain in 1965; Alabama state troopers & 600 black protestors clashed in Selma, Alabama, and the first US combat forces arrived in Vietnam (3,500 Marines.) He has a website dedicated to his gum wrapper chain which as of March 11, 2011, is 66,835 feet in length and contains 1,581,150 Gum Wrappers! Some other interesting facts about the chain are:
Began on March 11, 1965
$110,680 Worth of Gum
Weight – 930 lbs
Volume – 78 Cubic Feet
Contains WRIGLEY Wrappers Only
Record Holder for 16 Years
Over 25,000 Hours of Work
The current length is equal to the following:
222 Football Fields
334 Hockey Rinks
202 Soccer Fields
46 Empire State Buildings
12.7 Minutes by Car at 60 mph
5 Hours to Walk the Length
Eat Chew your heart out Paula!
CONSIDER YOURSELF LUCKY – Here’s a memory jolt. I remember back in the days before the focus on controlling littering, just about anything would be thrown out of passing car windows. Long before the Surgeon General published his findings about the dangers of smoking; it seemed that the streets were always littered with empty cigarette packages. As we would walk along the streets, we were always on the lookout for empty packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes. If you were the first to come across a pack on the ground, you would quickly place your foot on the pack and then punch what ever friend was walking next to you as hard as you could on the arm. As you did this, you had to announce “Lucky Strike, no strike back!” Your friend, of course, was not permitted to hit you back unless they also discovered another pack. I have NO idea where that practice started, but it seemed everyone knew it and practiced it!
A SUMMERTIME RESPICE – One of my favorite places to go to near my home was the playground that was located behind the Hungarian Reform Church on Kennedy Ave and down the hill. It was accessible from Hudson Ave, the road that ran adjacent to the mobile home area on the Duquesne side of Mifflin Street. I think there were two sets of swings, one for babies and a larger one for the older kids. There was a sliding board, a merry-go-round (aka – vomit comet) and a few picnic tables. The best part of the playground was the summer programs they would run. I remember creating countless potholders, plastic woven key chains and painted chalkware plaques for my mom. I remember having to pay for the supplies, but it never was above 25¢ for any of the items. We would spend hours painting, weaving or creating while sitting at one of the tables. It was usually the table located under a large shade tree, so it never seemed too hot.
I believe the playground was staffed by teenagers that the City of Duquesne hired as part of their parks and recreation department. They were there each day during the summer and they kept us in line. Sort of like “nuns in training.” Of course, we were pretty obedient kids and never really pushed our luck too much.
I only recall a few city playgrounds throughout Duquesne, but I am sure there are more. I hope you fill us in on any others you remember. I think there was one at Polish Hill, another at a school on N 3rd St., one by City Hall (?) and one other by the high school football field in Duquesne Place, Oh, those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer!
POUR A COLD ONE – OK, here’s one for the records. Who remembers the beer bottle billboard at the end of the Duquesne-McKeesport Bridge? Currently, as you near the end of the bridge as you are driving from the Duquesne side of the bridge, you can either turn right and head toward McKeesport, continue straight ahead and ultimately head toward White Oak or take an off ramp and head up toward East McKeesport past the old Vienna Baking Company and Great Valley Beer Distributors on your way to where Eastland Mall once stood (Yeah, its gone!)
In our youth, before the road was opened up, you were only able to turn right or left. Straight ahead was a very large bank of billboards. Centermost, and directly at the end of the bridge, was a billboard which featured a very large bottle which had a strip of canvas, the color of beer, that would continuously twist to create the illusion of beer being poured into a glass. Who would have thought that the residents of Duquesne and McKeesport would have such a technological wonder! Does anyone remember who beer it was?
And so my friends, it appears that I have managed to use up all of the ketchup and empty the bottle. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to purge! Until later, be well!